September 23, 2020 | 5 min read
“Strength in Numbers” is a trope that rings especially true in the nonprofit world. The more people we can rally for our cause, the better. And when those individuals are talented, determined and passionate about our mission, they can become an unstoppable force. Trust us, we know – we work with AmeriCORPS VISTAs.
What is a VISTA?
Each year, AmeriCORPS VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) engages over 8,000 individuals to support community efforts to overcome poverty.
VISTAs receive modest bi-weekly living allowances, healthcare access and are eligible for other benefits like allowances to help VISTAS relocate, an end of service award (VISTAS choose between cash or funding for future education expenses) and even childcare.
After their acceptance into the program which involves a rigorous application process, VISTAs begin their search for a program that best fits their interests and skills. With possibilities of completing their one-year term in all 50 states and U.S. Territories, there is a wide range of opportunities for VISTAS and no shortage of organizations that could use the extra bandwidth.
How we met our VISTA
Constantly exploring ways to expand the capacity of our organization, we were thrilled in 2019 when Housing Action IL offered Facing Forward an opportunity to become a VISTA host site.
And that’s how we met Brian. With experience in the corporate business world, our first-ever AmeriCORPS VISTA was full of new ideas. He helped us connect with new supporters, communicate our impact to different audiences and strengthen our peer-to-peer fundraising strategy to achieve our most successful #GivingTuesday yet. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, he helped us to quickly launch an emergency funding campaign, raising over $50,000 to provide additional supports for our clients.
Brian’s year with Facing Forward came to an end this August but before he gets too caught up pursing his master’s degree in public policy at the University of Chicago, Communications and Events Manager, Marilyn, asks him to reflect on his service and share with you a little about what makes him tick.
Marilyn: Hi Brian, nice to catch up with you. Since 1965, over 220,000 VISTA members have served with the mission to strengthen organizations that alleviate poverty. Can you tell us a little about your background and what inspired you to join AmeriCORPS VISTA?
Brian: I grew up in St Louis and moved to Chicago after college. I started my career in investment banking and private equity investing focused on the healthcare industry. During my early career I found great value in volunteering my free-time with organizations working to strengthen under-invested communities. After my private equity contract ended, I decided to transition full-time into the community development field.
I chose to serve a term with Americorps VISTA because of the hands-on nature of the roles. It’s a fantastic entry point for someone transitioning into the nonprofit sector – VISTAS are exposed to a broad range of projects and initiatives and we really get a feel for how nonprofits operate.
M: What was it about Facing Forward that made you want to dedicate your year to furthering our mission?
B: I was interested in working in homelessness services because I knew it was such a pressing, foundational issue facing our community. Without a safe and stable home, people get caught in a brutal cycle of perpetual poverty, and this has an enormous impact on the community-at-large.
What drew me to Facing Forward was their long-term solution to ending homelessness. Their programming is not a band-aid approach, but rather a permanent, scalable solution that ends homelessness for good and sets people on a better, more dignified path in life. I was also really impressed with how innovative their program team was and how fast they were growing – it seemed like an exciting place to work!
M: Can you share some of your favorite moments during your time at Facing Forward? Any successes you’re particularly proud of?
B: My favorite moments were when I had the opportunity to talk to the residents at our Sanctuary Place affordable housing complex (in a pre-covid world!). Seeing their families and hearing their stories everyday made the work we were doing more immediate and real. “Homelessness” became less of an abstract idea that I read about in articles, and I began to understand it for what it is – a terrible situation that people from all backgrounds can find themselves in. Their stories were often heartbreaking but they also shared a sense of hope.
A success I’d highlight is the roll-out of the new Associate Board. I created the initial strategic plan based on previous AB’s I had worked with in the past. We held a successful recruitment event and brought on 15 amazing, dedicated individuals who all devote their time and energy to help us fundraise and promote Facing Forward’s work. We threw a super fun trivia night in August and ended up raising $2k, and have a bunch more events coming up.
M: After the success of your year with us, we have decided to bring on another VISTA to continue the work you started. What advice do you have for future VISTAs at Facing Forward and around the country?
B: My advice to future VISTAs at Facing Forward would be to look at the big picture. Homelessness is connected to a range of issues that are highly relevant to today’s world – poverty, inequality, race, incarceration, education and healthcare. The way we talk and think about homelessness, and the solutions we advocate for, must consider these broader issues as well.
M: What’s next for you?
B: I just started grad school at UChicago’s Harris School of Public Policy, focused on social policy and inequality. After grad school I hope to work at a grant-making foundation and continue supporting organizations like Facing Forward who are doing amazing work to alleviate poverty and create a more equitable and just Chicago region.
M: Thank you so much for your time, Brian! We look forward welcoming you as Associate Board member and seeing all you accomplish in the years to come.